POLICE forces have been told people should not be punished for travelling a “reasonable distance” to exercise following criticism of tactics used to enforce the Covid-19 lockdown.

The new guidance, issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing on Tuesday night, also states road checks on every vehicle are “disproportionate”.

It comes after Derbyshire Police faced a backlash for filming walkers with drones to deter visitors to the Peak District, while North Yorkshire Police stopped motorists at “checkpoints” in York last week.

The new guidance states: “Use your judgement and common sense; for example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so, we don’t want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise.

“Road checks on every vehicle is equally disproportionate. We should reserve enforcement only for individuals who have not responded to engage, explain, and encourage, where public health is at risk.”

However, North Yorkshire Police today (Wednesday) stressed that not every vehicle was stopped at its checkpoints, saying engagement was based on information from areas where there was an issue with vehicles.

A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: “To date we have not issued any fines and continue to take an engagement, explain and encouragement approach. The majority of people appreciate why we are doing this – to protect the NHS and save lives in what is an unprecedented public health emergency.  

“Parts of North Yorkshire including the Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors national parks, coast and the City of York draw a very high number of visitors from elsewhere, especially in good weather. To get to these areas, visitors must typically travel extensive distances.

“Officers who stopped and engaged with drivers to ensure they understood the government’s measures about ‘essential’ journeys encountered a driver who was making a 140-mile round trip from Merseyside to the Yorkshire Dales and another who was making a 60-mile round trip from another county to ‘get some fresh air’ at a North Yorkshire beauty spot. We think most people would agree that these are not essential journeys or reasonable distances.

“Our response so far has taken into account these and other factors that are specific to North Yorkshire, to keep people safe in a vast, rural county.”

Police have been told to be “consistent” when using new powers brought in after the Government introduced social distancing measures last week.

People can only leave their homes to go shopping for basic necessities and medicines, to exercise, or to go to work if their job cannot be done from home.

Officers can fine or even arrest those flouting the rules under legislation enacted last Thursday.

But comments from Government ministers have sometimes gone beyond the scope of the law, leading to potential confusion.

Some forces, including Derbyshire, said on Tuesday they had not used the new powers once, while Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules over the weekend.

The guidance, which has been updated since it was originally sent to forces last week, said policing should be “by consent” with the initial response to “encourage voluntary compliance”.

It says: “There is no power to ‘stop and account’. The police will apply the law in a system that is flexible, discretionary and pragmatic.

“This will enable officers to make sensible decisions and employ their judgement. Enforcement should be a last resort.”

It comes after Derbyshire Police chief constable Peter Goodman defended using drone footage to deter people driving for walks in the Peak District.

He said he had wanted to start a “conversation” after elderly residents were left “frightened to death” following an influx of visitors the previous weekend.

Former High Court judge Lord Sumption said the move “shamed our policing traditions” but Mr Goodman said: “I know it’s caused controversy.

“I regret that the reputation of Derbyshire Constabulary has been hit a bit through this, but I don’t regret what’s happened as a consequence because I think lives will be saved.”

West Midlands Police chief constable Dave Thompson said in a series of tweets on Tuesday that claims that Britain is becoming a “police state” are “widely off the mark”.

“I think the public are trying to stick to this, which they are, and I think the general comments that have been made by experts and people, they just need to cut us a little bit of slack at the moment, it’s pretty tough,” he said.